Tuesday, December 07, 2021

The Non-violent Heroic Confrontation

I came across this in my reading. 

The article considers,
"How does the hero confront violence without becoming violent themself?"
"How intrinsic is violence to the idea of heroism?"

Interesting to me. Maybe a thought-provoker for others who write or review.


  1. I've tried a couple of times to comment, but it never goes through.

  2. Trying again:

    I’ve been thinking about this. I’m not much for gore and torment myself. If there’s a body, I prefer it to be neatly laid out in the library. On the other hand, wrongdoing seems to require a commensurate punishment to right the balance in the universe. Saying you’re sorry isn’t enough to get you off the hook.

    The quotations seem to imply that violence is necessarily bad. But is it? It may require force to stop the bad guy. Must self-defense be only kind words? That’s a bit unrealistic.

    On the other hand, heroism doesn’t necessarily require violent or even physical action. It can be self-sacrifice or a refusal to do wrong or testify falsely. Sidney Carlton or Vaclav Havel.

    This sounds kind of like I’m waffling. I’m not demanding the villain’s head on a pike, but sometimes it’s really satisfying to see him laid out with a knockout punch, and I’d hate to outlaw violence completely. (That would be my sister. She couldn’t play a video game where the character—Mario?—could fall off the ladder.)

    1. I disapprove of killing as the first solution to problems and I write the stories to reflect this.
      I think it makes better plot and characterization.

      Take Hawker, for instance. He starts his character journey as a young teen who can kill without regret.
      He's a very cold killer. He seldom has rage and vengeance as an excuse. It's a job.

      He doesn't enjoy killing. It's a job. Everybody he knows is violent and life is cheap in the stews of London.
      He figures it's better to be one of the predators than one of the prey.
      He's not a very nice fellow.

      Grey and Doyle are interested in Hawker, not because he can kill skillfully, but because they think he has the capacity to not kill.

      Hawker chooses to turn from underworld assassin to spy. He respects the men at Meeks Street. He wants to emulate them and be part of their posse.

      The job comes with a -- to him -- odd code of ethics, but he can obey rules even if they don't make sense. Under orders, Hawker behaves in an ethical manner long before he incorporates the actual ethics into his worldview.

      Does he change from chaotic good to lawful good?

      In the end, as a powerful senior member of government, Hawker finds himself enforcing the law even onto himself. He doesn't get to stab random villains who deserve it, but he'd like to.

      So, does Hawker reach hero status?
      I don't think he kills much.
      Some, I suppose.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. I find it interesting that the writer only considers "the heroic duel" and its possible non-violent alternatives. A duel is already a controlled form of violence (as opposed to someone shooting around with a machine gun, or a battle, or a space fight with entire spaceships blowing up (or entire planets, see Death Star in Star Wars). I think the acceptable level of violence on the good guys' part depends on the violence they need to confront and I think control on the violence is also an integral question. The stories where the hero is overtaken by a battle fever/berserker impulse and it's not shown to be wrong are ones that I find troublesome, not ones with well executed heropic duels.
    Also, the alternatives in the article are mostly defined by the protagonist being physically weak, and choosing a sacrifice that doesn't solve everything in every setting. The Korean myth example is glaring: marriage to a monstruous antagonist is an abhorrent solution. I haven't seen the Star Trek episode in question, but Ferengis tend to be ridiculous and cowardly so the whole situation seems to be a subversion of the concept of the hero.

    1. Writing heroes ...

      The stories I want to write have struggle against an adversary, physical risk. Virtues like competence, bravery, endurance, high staskes, sacrifice.

      (I know there are heroic stories to be written about the virtues of self-sacrifice, nurturing, healing and growing, guilt and redemption. But other folks are writing these books with great skill. I don't think I'm so much suited to these themes.)

      I'm thinking about confrontation with an adversary, desperate struggle, physical courage, endurance . . . and suchlike.
      Am I committing myself to unexamined violence?

      That's not just dismally stereotyped, it's a lost opportunity to explore the characters.

      I'm going to have to ponder on how we commit violence and what it does to us. How it limits the scope of the characters we create.

      It's hard. I keep looking at little pieces of this big characterization problem.

  5. Ooh, now this is fascinating, because my villains seem to resort to violence, but my heroes and heroines only do so if it's in self-defense (or to protect their children). Good food for thought!

  6. Ooh, now this is fascinating, because my villains seem to resort to violence, but my heroes and heroines only do so if it's in self-defense (or to protect their children). Good food for thought!
    (I can't see the follow post button, so I hope I don't miss more comments!)